Album: James Yorkston – The Wide, Wide River review

by Dave Bertram

The Scottish songwriter shows us the light and the dark on yet another absorbing new record

As a critically acclaimed novelist, it should be of little surprise that each track that makes up Fife folk stalwart James Yorkston’s new release, The Wide Wide River, creates a web of interlinked, autobiographical stories that reflect on love present and past, anxiety and the passing of time.

But the ambiance is often upbeat – and like its eclectic predecessor, The Route to the Harmonium, is not always mournful; driven in moments by Krautrock-esque momentum and looping bass, sprinkled with energetic violins and omnichord, and given a real depth and richness by the improvisation of The Second Hand Orchestra, led here by Peter Morén (Peter, Bjorn & John) and Cecilia Österholm.

 To Soothe Her Wee Bit Sorrows bears this in bucket loads – shuffling along with the spontaneous energy the Swedish recording sessions were born out of, before falling away on Choice, Like White River  -a swaying, choral acoustic-led track that, like an old folk song, is made for a campfire under the stars.

There’s No Upside is a marathon, violin-heavy ditty that braids the string lines with Yorkston’s gritty, scratchy delivery, as he pairs the song’s title with its counterpart through an almost chanty chorus. And then the highlight, Droplet Forms, with its haunting piano, creeping instrumentation and drum fills that bring it to a mid-song crescendo that takes its calling cards from Radiohead’s Kid A.

On a record that has so much space, yet is crammed with story and instrumental flourishes – see the uplifting brass and string sections on closing track, We Test the Beams – it’s difficult not to be absorbed by it. The sadness and hope resonates with the mixture of emotions we’re all feeling.

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